With snow falling across many states in the United States, our thoughts naturally turn towards getting out and playing in the fluffy powder nature is presenting to us. For many dogs, snow brings the same joy and excitement. They love to roll, eat, bounce and slide through their new belly deep playground. Although there are many activities that we can do with our dogs to take advantage of our winter weather, there are few that highlight and build as much of a human-dog connection as skijoring.
Skijoring is a favorite activity amongst many of us at Ruffwear. It allows us to connect with our dogs, enjoy serene winter landscapes, and get some exercise in the process. Our Marketing Director, Susan Strible had the opportunity to chat with Suzanne Lavalle from www.spoiledbitch.net to answer some questions Suzanne had about the sport. We want to thank Suzanne for including us in her blog.
We hope you enjoy the interview, and more importantly, we hope you give skijoring a shot this winter!
An interview with Susan Strible on Skijoring:
Q (Suzanne Lavalle): I know little about Skijoring other than it’s gaining in popularity as a sport and as a pastime. Can you tell us more about it?
A (Susan Strible): Skijoring has been around for a long time and seems to have early beginnings in Scandinavia. The sport of skijoring refers to humans on skis being pulled by a dog, a horse or a motor vehicle. For our purposes here at Ruffwear, we’re all about the human-dog connection so we’ve focused on skijoring with dogs. During the activity, the human wears a hipbelt that is connected to the dog harness by a length of rope or towline. Cross country (or nordic) skis are widely used for recreational skijoring. Skijoring racing events are also growing in popularity and in this case, skate skis are appropriate.
Q: You started Skijoring with Artie in the spring of 2011 – what attracted you to this sport?
A: Last spring Ruffwear had just produced final prototypes of the new Omnijore Joring System. I had a chance to test the system out with Artie at a local snow park that has dog-friendly nordic ski trails. It was perfect timing because we had recently adopted Artie from Guide Dogs for the Blind in Oregon. As a one-year-old energetic puppy, Artie needed some quality outdoor time and I found skijoring to be the perfect activity during the cold winter months. We both get exercise while spending time together in the snow-covered forest, what could be better?
Q: What were your initial challenges with Artie?
A: It was difficult at first to organize the gear, put it on both of us (my human hipbelt and his dog harness), and get hooked up. Artie wanted to run off and greet the other dogs at the park and I needed him to focus on the task at hand. Also, getting underway down the trail involved a brief series of stops and starts until Artie realized I really did want him to run in front of me (we work on heeling without pulling on the leash quite often on our daily walks). Once we were down the trail a short distance, we quickly fell into a rhythm of Artie running in front and me following behind connected by the towline. Once the initial stops and starts were behind us, it was surprisingly easy to maintain our pace and continue down the trail!
Q: What tips do you have for a beginning Skijorer – how far can you expect to go or for how long? What should we be careful of?
A: I would plan for a two-hour outing (not including travel). This will give you plenty of time to get the gear situated, get comfortable with the setup and have some quality trail time. Considerations prior would be: 1) make sure your destination is dog-friendly, 2) check the weather so you know what to expect and can dress accordingly, 3) bring water and some snacks for both you and your dog. Also, I like to familiarize myself with the area and pick up a trail map ahead of time. This way I can pick a route that will match my capabilities as well as my dog’s. For beginners that want to take it slow, look for flat, wide trails that have been groomed (if possible). The route that I’ve taken at our local snow park is a loop that is 3.5 km long. This was a reasonable distance for us to go during our first few outings. Watch out for icy trails or exposed rocks when you’re out and about. And, bring a friend and another dog!
Q: You work at the mac-daddy of outdoor gear companies for dogs – and stating the obvious, there is equipment involved in Skijoring. What Ruffwear product(s) do you recommend?
A: The most obvious equipment recommendation I can make is Ruffwear’s Omnijore Joring System. It’s designed to be easy to use, durable and fun. We sell the system as a set of three components, the human hipbelt, the towline and the dog harness. The dog harness comes in three sizes, Small, Medium, and Large and fits dogs of all shapes and sizes. I would recommend skijoring with a dog that is a minimum of 25 pounds (that’s not scientific, just my own opinion).
Also, consider the weather. If the temperature is very cold and your dog doesn’t have a lot of fur, Ruffwear’s Cloud Chaser dog jacket is ideal.
It’s like a soft-shell jacket that we humans would wear in high-aerobic activities. Dog boots are also great to have on your dog’s paws, especially if you plan to cover a lot of ground. Cold, icy surfaces can abrade dog’s paws, making injury likely. Additionally, if your adventure starts early or late in low-light conditions, consider visibility. Ruffwear makes a dog safety light we call The Beacon and it clips to dog collars or harnesses. And last but not least, bring a collapsible dog bowl (it fits in the pocket on the Omnijore Human Hipbelt). Dogs sometimes will eat snow to hydrate themselves, but water is a better solution to make sure they are getting what they need.
Q: With such little snowfall this year, is there a way to practice on dry land? And if not, what will your outdoor adventure of choice be this winter?
A: Yes, the Omnijore Joring System can be used on dry land to do skatejoring (skateboarding) or rollerblade-joring. Also, another emerging (and somewhat related) sport is called canicross. This involves the same human hipbelt-dog harness-towline set up, only the human is jogging or running behind the dog. There are lots of ways to use this three-part system with dog pulling activities. While we wait for the snow to start falling, Artie and I have been out and about on our favorite trails hiking and running this winter. But, our fingers and paws are crossed that we’ll be able to get some skijoring in this season!
Share your skijoring experiences, questions or tips with us by leaving a comment below or on our facebook page.